ORONO, Maine — Despite being just two games into its conference schedule, the University of Maine softball team was feeling the pressure to come up with a win Sunday after being swept in a Saturday doubleheader.
Starting pitcher Jenna Balent literally shouldered the load and exhibited the kind of senior leadership expected of her by pitching a two-hit shutout and leading the Black Bears to a 2-0 America East victory over Stony Brook University at Kessock Field.
“She was mixing in, out, up and also working her offspeed stuff in, and she has a great changeup,” said Maine coach Deb Smith. “Other than one inning, she did very well. She threw a lot of pitches, but her count went down as the game went on. She needed to have this kind of day.”
Balent had five strikeouts and five walks in her seven innings of work. After averaging 19 pitches per inning over the first four innings, she averaged 12.7 in the last three.
“I’m trying to really work on my pitch movement, pitch strikes and get ahead on batters,” said Balent (5-3). “[Catcher] Steph George did a great job mixing pitches and keeping them off balance. I hit spots well, so it worked great.”
After Maine gave up 27 total hits to the Seawolves in 4-1 and 13-6 losses Saturday, Balent turned things into a pitching duel with SBU’s Alyssa Struzenberg, who threw a complete game in Saturday’s first game and then three innings of relief for a save in the second.
“She [Balent] made adjustments from [Saturday] and our hitters didn’t make adjustments to balance that,” said SBU coach Megan Bryant. “Her changeup was very effective today. We didn’t sit on it as much as I’d like.”
Balent credited her changeup, outside dropball and getting a lead for her success.
“Once we got up two runs, all of a sudden, you get that extra spark,” she said.
With the onus on the 22-17 Black Bears (3-4 in conference games) to come up with a win, especially since Maine has another America East doubleheader against Boston University Wednesday, other players like Kali Burnham embraced the challenge.
The sophomore left fielder singled in her first two at-bats and then drew a one-out walk in the fifth, which ironically was even more important than her hits as she would advance to third on Ashley Waters’ single down the right-field line and Terren Hall’s fielder’s choice grounder to short. Kristen Calvetti followed with an RBI single to shallow right-center to score Waters.
“It’s hard to say we’d rather win one Sunday than two Saturday but, if anything, this really sets us up for that Wednesday doubleheader,” said Burnham. “Everybody was pumped the entire game. We knew we were going to win it.”
Both teams threatened to break the scoreless tie more than once, but the pitchers escaped numerous jams. The Seawolves loaded the bases with one out in the fourth, but Balent stymied the threat with a strikeout and a foul popup to the catcher. SBU stranded two more in the fifth as Balent struck out No. 5 hitter Kelly Obero with two outs.
“Today we left nine runners on base and Maine got it done,” Bryant said. “They made the most of their opportunities and we didn’t.”
Kelsi Fanelli had both of SBU’s hits with two singles.
Maine also left the bases loaded in the fourth and stranded nine total runners.
“I needed to see how they responded, especially after we talked [Saturday] because they played so poorly,” said Smith. “We needed to play well today.”
On Saturday, Struzenberg pitched a three-hitter in the first game and Marissa Fleury hit a two-run homer to give SBU all the runs it would need. Kelly Oberto and Suzanne Karath each had a double and a single. Hall hit a solo home run for the Black Bears.
In the second game, Oberto and Crista Cerrone each went 4-for-5 to pace the Seawolves. Fanelli had a home run and a double for four RBIs. Jade Clare hit a three-run home run.
George hit a two-run homer and tripled for the Bears. Alexis Souhlaris went 3-for-4 with a double and two singles.